Clause 83. — (Effect of Cessation of Control Order.)

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13 April 1964.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South 12:00, 13 April 1964

I beg to move, in page 87, line 43, at the end to insert: (2) Where the county court on an appeal against a control order, or on an appeal under the last foregoing section, revokes a control order the court may authorise the local authority under section 69(2) of this Act to create interests which expire, or which the dispossessed proprietor can terminate, within six months from the time when the control order ceases to have effect, being interests which, notwithstanding subsection (3) of the said section 69, are for a fixed term exceeding one month, or are terminable by notice to quit (or an equivalent notice) of more than four weeks. We touched on this Amendment, though we did not discuss it fully, when dealing with two earlier Amendments. This is the Amendment to which I referred when replying to the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). It gives the county court a power to authorise the local authority to create leases or interests akin to leases up to six months at the time when an appeal is brought either against the order in the first place, or against a refusal to revoke the order. We discussed the principle fairly fully earlier.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

I admit that it is a question of opinion which nobody can prove, but I still feel that the words added by an earlier Amendment will be more effective than will this Amendment. However, I rise to address my hon. Friend on another point. I raised a similar question in Committee. I may be far too simple in these matters, but if an issue is taken before a court one gets either confirmation or denial. That seems to be the whole foundation of justice. The Amendment says this: Where the county court on an appeal against a control order, or on an appeal under the last foregoing section, revokes a control order". Those are the operative words. The court revokes a control order; it says that the control order shall no longer be so.

9.0 p.m.

The Amendment continues: …the court may authorise the local authority under section 69(2) of this Act to create interests which expire, or which the dispossessed proprietor can terminate, within six months from the time when the control order ceases to have effect,…". Odd though it may seem, I do not object to those interests being created. But it may be practicable and possible, and probably more desirable, that these interests should be created from other powers we have now put in the Bill, bearing in mind the fact that, firstly, the court would be turned into a judicial tribunal to decide how much should be given to one side or the other—which is not the function of a county court—and, secondly, the court would have to decide how far it should go in length of time with the creation of a lease. I cannot see the motives involved here, and there is no explanation in the Clause about the actual creation of those interests.

What will happen if it is discovered that a control order should never have been made or that one was made wrongly or without due consideration? Is it possible that the court will, in that event, still have power to grant a six months' lease to enable the local authority to get back its money? I hope my hon. Friend realises that justice applies to all and not to just the local authority. It applies, equally, to the dispossesed proprietor, although he may have been extremely wicked in one way or another.

I referred to this matter in Committee, and I do so now because, although I may have been in a minority of one—which does not worry me in the least—I cannot understand why, if a court is being asked to adjudicate, it should have to say, "You cannot have this but you can have something else in its place". This is not like a court making probation orders. It will be concerned with making a decision about whether or not a control order has been rightly or wrongly made and what should then he done in the event of the decision to make a control order having been wrongly made.

I agree with the powers implicit in the Amendment, but I do not accept that this is the best way of effecting them. I do not consider it justice. County courts have enough to do without having to worry about what degree of leases should be given, and I am convinced this is not the best method of trying to administer justice between local authorities and individuals.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The Government are not treating the House fairly on this part of the Bill, which we have been discussing for the last hour or more. One can sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary. He sits in his place like Casablanca. His right hon. Friend has gone and although we have been dealing with extremely complicated legal matters—and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) has just pointed out how complex this Amendment is—we have not had the advice of one of the Law Officers of the Crown on exactly how this Amendment will work in practice in the courts. I hope an explanation can be given to the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South about the Amendment, because we are taking grave risks in passing or rejecting Amendments when we have no legal advice about their exact import and how, on these complicated legal matters, they will work in practice in the courts.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I feel almost overcome with the suggestion that I should be in some way deputising for one of the Law Officers in this complex matter. There is nothing new in putting on to county courts jurisdiction in relation to leases. We have is in a number of sections in the old Landlord and Tenant Act, and I suggest that there were far more complex jurisdictions under the old Rent Acts.

What is proposed is that the county court should have the power—and I want to make this clear, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), probably by a slip of the tongue, put it differently—to authorise a local authority to grant leases to tenants before handing over to the former proprietor or his successor in title. It is not a question of the local authority taking the lease, but of the local authority creating a lease that will operate in favour of a tenant against the person to whom the property is handed back.

If, on appeal, the court thinks that the control order should be revoked and is of opinion that it is an order that should never have been made, the court clearly would not regard it as right to use this particular power for that type of order, but one can readily imagine a number of cases in which the order when made by the local authority was clearly justified and right but, where, owing to the ameliorating action taken by the proprietor in the meantime, the court might well say, "This has had its effect. Provided that you, the owner, are prepared to be ser Bible with your tenants and agree to reasonable security of tenure, we think that there is no good reason to confirm this order."

From there, the court can go a step further and say, "We don't think that there is any reason to confirm the order now, but in view of the past history it would be reasonable to authorise the local authority to give leases of this sort." I cannot believe that that is outside the ordinary competence of the county court, and I was a little nonplussed by my hon. Friend when he said that this was a judicial interpretation—I hope that I do not misquote him—as between the local authority and the dispossessed owner, and that that was not the function of the court. What else is the function of the court other than judicial interpretation, I do not know, and I should have thought it an admirable body to determine such an issue. I therefore hope that the House will accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I am quite happy that the Scottish Law Officers are not here because, had they been here, I doubt whether we would have reached Amendment No. 163. The effect of their presence is usually to cause more misunderstanding than when we do not have them, so I am quite glad they are not here.

I am satisfied to have the Under-Secretary of State, but, unfortunately, we do not hear from him; we are getting all our legal explanations from the Parliamentary Secretary. Whilst I think that the Parliamentary Secretary has handled these Scottish matters with great skill, I feel that it would be more fitting the dignity of Scottish legislation if the legal aspects of Scottish Measures were dealt with by a Scottish Minister. This is a casting aside of power by the Scottish Office that I am sure would not be acceptable in Scotland, were it realised.

What the Scottish Law Times would say about this, if it knew of it, I hesitate to think. It had bitter words to say about the Bill and the way in which it was handled. It called the Bill the greatest hotchpotch of Scottish legislation ever introduced into the House of Commons and if, in addition, it thought that it was now being handled by an English Minister I am quite confident that its wrath would know no bounds.

I ask the Under-Secretary of State not to be so shy, but to tell us what the effect is in the Scottish sheriff court. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) who said that he did not think that this was a suitable matter for the courts to judge.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to misinterpret my words or meaning. I said that the court should be deciding the rights or wrongs of making a control order, and I asked what would be the result of that decision.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

We have been discussing elsewhere a Scottish Measure dealing with shop tenancies under which the sheriff court is bound to take into consideration matters such as these. I think that this is something which the court should have the power to do, but I should like to have the views of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on whether this duty which we are placing on the sheriff court is in accordance with the practice of that court.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

As hon. Members opposite who represent Scottish constituencies know, I had a great deal more to do with the Bill in Committee than I have had today on Report because many of these Amendments which are similar in Scotland have naturally been taken in a group by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as a matter of convenience when a number of Amendments are being taken together. My hon. Friend admirably covered the Scottish points which in this matter were straightforward.

I am, however, glad to rise to assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) that in this edition which we are now proposing the effect is similar in Scotland, because the sheriff court, which throughout the Bill is read with the county court that is mentioned for England and Wales, has similar jurisdiction and the practice is similar in that court. This proposed additional subsection, therefore, would have an exactly similar effect in Scotland.

Amendment agreed to.